"We'll talk later, Samara," Philomena Shepard said as she hoisted herself up from the floor, by way of grabbing onto the ledge of a table. "Thanks for your time." Quietly, as not to disturb the justicar, she exited the observation room and winced as the door clanged open and slid shut.
Not that Samara minded. She was used to the slick, hydraulic swoosh of the door. It rarely disrupted her meditation, as she'd learned by now to selectively block it out from her consciousness without a second thought. The quiet hum of the Normandy, the air conditioning units switching on and off at intermittent times. Even EDI occasionally chirping about being needed at the debriefing room, Samara could bar it all from entering her ears and distracting her from what she felt was more important.
Floating between her hands, at level with her chest, she formed a ball of pure dark energy. It flickered, signaling that her concentration -and self-claimed personal space- had been compromised.
Samara didn't think much of it at first; chalking it up to her trying to regain focus after what later became known as 'the confrontation'. As Morinth, the woman whom she'd been pursuing, crossed her mind, the asari felt an inward ping of something... remorse? A familiar feeling to be sure. One she'd tried time and again to block out, but could not completely.
The dark energy disappeared and reappeared once more, flickering at longer intervals until she stabilized it with a simple eye blink to regain focus, despite the unsettling feeling she had now begun to develop. Even deep within meditation, Samara knew she was not alone now. There was another body present inside the room. And it was certainly not Shepard.
Her eyes snapped wide open, the dark energy ball instantly vanishing in a blink of an eye. The justicar remained stoic in her posture; still sitting rigidly with her chin tilted upward slightly and never turning side to side, ferreting out who could possibly be in the room with her by an acute sense of smell. It was not Miranda, whose body was covered in gross amounts of strong, exotic perfumes that could have only been afforded by the wealthy and the hedonistic.
Nor was it Tali, who had the smell of sulfur from Haestrom lingering upon her bio-suit, coupled with the remnants of the sterile quarian flotillas she'd recognized from past encounters with that race. And it certainly was not Jack, who reeked of varied blood, rough sex and maybe cigarettes that she could have smuggled on board following their last stop at a refueling port near Omega. This person... this stranger, they carried an odor of salty ocean about them, with a trace of residue from the Life Support room.
Instead, Samara could hear more than footsteps. The quiet palpitations of a heart was what drew her interest. They were soft, with the rare split second in which there was no 'lub dub' noise, hinting at what could be nervousness, or perhaps distress. Closing her eyes, Samara began to put the pieces together. She became intimately familiar with the unique heartbeats of each crew member who passed through the observatory while she was locked in ritualistic meditation. Garrus' was normal, occasionally leaping at the mere mention of Omega or of Shepard, the latter much to Samara's amusement. Mordin's fluttered as quickly as he talked, leading her to privately wonder if someday his heart would engage in a battle with his mouth to see who could outlast the other.
But this... this one was new. It was from one who dared not to come in her close presence before.
"I know you are there, Thane Krios," Samara spoke, her voice bereft of any malice or playfulness. "You have no reasons to hide from me."
Leaning against a corner wall, Thane slowly emerged from the shadows, having been found out.
"I w as wondering when you would acknowledge my presence," he responded. "I suppose I should be honest. I had been standing there all throughout your conversation with Shepard."
Samara did not even turn her head to look at the drell, the only acknowledgment being a wry smile that he was not sure how to interpret.
"You think me to be completely oblivious?" She asked, finally turning her head towards his direction. "It just so happens I felt another presence in the room, but I wished not to say anything as it would startle Shepard. However, you do realize it is impolite to eavesdrop," she added, wryly.
Thane thumbed in the direction of an open ventilation shaft behind him. Clearly, he took the far more obvious approach, which she had to give him some modicum of credit for. In the future, she would soon have to train herself to be more attune to that spot, should someone else think to try the same thing, only with less finesse and tact than he.
"What brings you here, Thane?" She asked, slowly rising from the floor. Without so much as even a single grunt, she now stood up, looking squarely at the drell in the shadows of the room. All she could see was the faint, vague shapes of his figure, and the light reflecting from his wide, black eyes. "It is rare that anyone on this ship wishes to be in my company, though many often pass through here and disregard my presence."
"Perhaps they don't wish to disturb you," suggested Thane. "You do carry yourself rather coldly." he then strode out from the shadows, but stopped at the edge of one of the couches. He dared no go any closer. "Unfortunate that for most humans, the first impression is the lasting one."
She waited for an answer for her first question, something the drell was very much aware of. He leaned on the back of the couch, looking down at the justicar with great curiosity.
"But to answer your original question, I admit I'm interested in learning about something ," he admitted. "Yeoman Chambers told me that you had taken an interest in what happened while Shepard and I were at the Citadel." Thane rubbed his nails against the backside of his thumb. "She wouldn't tell me why, saying that it was 'confidential'. So instead of trying to find secondhand information, I thought I would ask you myself."
There was no use to hide anything now. He had successfully rooted out her intentions, as mysterious and ill-defined as they were. But if there was anyone on the ship besides Shepard with whom she could entrust this to, it was him.
"I apologize for my poor attempts at secrecy. The Yeoman apparently is not too good at keeping her word," Samara said, trying to be light about it. Her mood quickly changed. "This will be very difficult of me to ask, but of everyone on this ship, I know you are the only one who will understand."
She sharply looked away. "I need your help."
"I am listening," said Thane.
The justicar sat back down. Silently, she gestured towards the drell, suggesting that he sit beside her. Without question, but with trepidation, Thane approached her closer and lowered himself onto the ground, assuming a crossed-leg position similar to that of Samara's. His elbows rested on his knees; his hands a support for his chin as he too gazed into the sea of endless stars that passed by.
Samara, having recomposed herself, now looked Thane in his eyes. So dark were they, did she see a faint reflection of herself within them, causing her to be slightly taken aback at how distraught she had appeared to be then and there. Her attempts at remaining composed were not completely successful.
"Shepard obtained for me information on Illium pertaining to my quarry that I was pursuing before I joined her. I did some research and I have tracked her own to Omega," she began. "She goes by the name 'Morinth'. I must capture her before she disappears again. It is even more imperative now than ever for me to apprehend her, for I may not return after the mission at hand."
Thane tapped a finger against his lips, listening intently to Samara's tale.
"Morinth," murmured Thane. "I believe I may have heard her name once or twice. Never once in a favorable context. Does she also happen to go by the moniker of 'Ardat Yakshi', by any chance?"
Samara slowly nodded her head.
"Demon of the Night Winds. A 'name' from a dead dialect. But in truth she suffers from a rare genetic disorder, which was given that name by the asari," she said. "She preys upon her victims, bending them to her will. Then, she strikes without mercy, leaving them as empty husks, left to die. Confuses them... uses them."
There was more to her story. He knew it. Her words, tinted with sadness, led Thane to believe that she was hiding something, or waiting for the opportune time to spring it upon him. He was many things, but a fool he was not.
"An honorable goal indeed." Thane nodded. "A dangerous person like this Morinth cannot be allowed to continue her wicked deeds," he then hunched over slightly, looking up at Samara from a rather suspicious angle. "What do you need me for in all of this?"
Nothing of Samara moved. Her rigid posture subtly went soft and her mouth became dry, all in preparation for what she was about to reveal next.
"Thane," she took in a quiet, yet deep breath. "She is my daughter."
Thane snapped upright, his face contorted into a bewildered expression. Many things went through his head, all of which he tried to process at once. Every thing about Samara's carefully picked words all but revealed that she was a parent. Why else would she have taken an interest in his own quest to save his son from himself? Yes, he understood the pain of having a child take the path leading down the dark roads. Only he never once dreamed or even could comprehend calling his Kolyat a 'monster', not even for what he was going to do.
"I am sorry," he said, calmly.
Samara rose to her feet, assisting Thane up alongside. He adjusted his sleeves, avoiding eye contact with her.
"Do not pity me. Morinth' s condition was of my doing," she snapped. "It is my penance... my redemption to kill her."
On the other hand, Morinth was a murderer; someone who killed without remorse. Faintly familiar with the stories of the 'Ardat Yakshi', he was -as anyone savvy in the criminal underbelly of the galaxy would be-, Thane agreed that she needed to be brought to justice. But to have her mother so devoted to her downfall... that was entirely different. He couldn't ever imagine being hellbent to kill Kolyat if his son ever became like Morinth, at least, not in the present moment. And he was not against helping her, but there were still so many questions left unanswered. Questions that would require another time to be answered.
"I will try not to dissuade you from your goal, Samara," said Thane. "And although much of this remains unknown to me, I will help you. My only request is to know the rest of the story. But not now. Only tell me when you are ready to," he pressed a button o n the wall. He turned around, heading for the door. It was almost time for his meditation, only now he would have a new mystery to contemplate on as he was locked in deep, transcendent thought. "But for now, it is time for my meditations. Come find me when you are ready to leave and I will speak with Shepard."
"As much respect as I have for Commander Shepard, this is something she must not be involved in," whispered Samara. "I fear she would not be strong enough to resist Morinth... but yes, for your help, I will tell you the full story. Soon."
"Are you sure it's a smart thing letting them go alone?" asked Jacob, watching as the elevator door closed in front of Thane. "What if they get themselves killed?"
Shrugging her shoulders, Shepard didn't think too much of it at first. For one thing, Thane was too vague about the details, only stating that it would help to bring Samara focused on the real mission at hand... and cryptically adding that it too would help bring him some sense of added clarity. This struck her as odd, as she thought he was focused now after helping his son from spiraling into a life of self-destruction.
"Eh, I wouldn't worry," she said, dismissively. "Whatever helps them stay focused is good enough for me. And as long as I don't have to step foot in that overgrown toilet of the galaxy again? I'm okay with that."
Jacob sighed, wondering how she could be so flippant about such things. He'd grown somewhat used to it since meeting her, but was left wondering how Garrus or Tali could have put up with it back in the day.
"Fair enough, but it ain't going to be my fault if we find out they ended up on a one-way trip," he replied, dryly.
Shepard laughed. "Oh ye of little confidence." They both passed by the mess sergeant on the way to the main battery steps. "You forget that he's a highly professional assassin and she's a thousand year-old justicar." She folded her arms across her chest, one foot on the step above it. "I think they'll do just fine."
Watching the Normandy fly off from the port, Thane and Samara knew they were truly on their own now. Shepard had business with Jacob they needed to attend to -briefly mentioning a distress beacon and his father- and could not afford to stay long in Omega regardless if they needed their help or not.
Strolling down the grimy hallway, Thane noted Samara's body language carefully. Poised and aloof as she'd always been, there was something a touch different about the way she walked. A slight slowness to her step. It wasn't something the average person -turian, asari or salarian- could pick up on right away or at all. He knew, because he felt that same slowness when both he and Shepard were seeking out Kolyat. His own feet felt slow. Made it difficult to walk a little. Dread was what it was, a type not spoken of aloud.
"Samara, due to the daily high death tolls, I have been unable to obtain information pertaining to an Ardat-Yakshi's precise whereabouts on Omega," said EDI over comms. "It might be wise to go visit Aria T'Loak and see if she is aware of the situation."
Samara pressed two fingers against her ear. "Thank you, EDI."
When the door slid open, Thane was briefly overcome by the heavy humidity of the station. The hot, thick air was tangible upon his scaly skin. True, he'd been here before and was used to it, but it still made coming there all the more uncomfortable. As a drell, he much preferred dry places, of which this hellhole was not. Adjusting his jacket collar, he told Samara that he would be fine and eventually become acclimated to the atmosphere, however strong it was.
"If there is anyone who would know there whereabouts of an Ardat-Yakshi, it would..." Thane began, stopping mid-sentence as his companion stopped dead in her tracks.
Out of the corner of her eye, he could see Samara watching intently as a vorcha, possibly a Blood Pack merc, began to assault a young turian girl. Breaking away, she stormed over and swatted him several feet away with the simplest of biotic pushes. Thane, running over to the girl amidst the chaos, helped the victim to her feet and both watched as the justicar, after entangling herself in a quick and pointed verbal battle, broke the vorcha's neck with the sharp twist of her heel. All while her face remained perfectly calm, even amidst the last gurgle of it's life.
"You..." the turian gasped. "You saved me."
"Did he hurt you?" asked Thane.
He saw a small trickle of blue blood coming from under her head covering. Thane lifted the side flap, gently applying medi-gel upon the small wound with precision that would rival even the best surgeon. The turian rubbed a hand against her fringe shortly after the medi-gel cooled. She was visibly shaken, but thankful to be around genuinely compassionate strangers.
"The bastard scratched my head a little, but I'll... I'll be alright. Nothing I haven't dealt with before." She approached Samara. "I don't know who you are, but thank you! Not since Archangel was here has anyone had the guts to help someone just because they could." She pulled out some credits. "H-here... take these! It's all I have, but I'm just thankful to still have my life!"
Samara gently pushed her hand away. "Keep them. You need those more than I," she smiled. "I must go now. Be safe, young lady."
Thane felt pity for the lady, knowing she was trapped in this living hell and had no means to escape. Her brushing off of the incident didn't sit well with him. Have they become so desensitized to this madness that they accept their lot in life without even trying to do better, he thought to himself.
As Samara walked on ahead towards the club, Thane pulled out some credits from his pocket, slipping them into the turian's hands. "Here," he whispered. "Get out of this place and find safer haven elsewhere." She gasped, unsure of what to say or how to properly express her gratitude to this stranger. "Go wherever you wish, but promise me you will never return here."
"I... you..." the turian stammered, her head wildly moving from her hands to the drell; mandibles splayed open out of total shock. "Spirits be with you, stranger!" She quickly dashed off for parts unknown. "I won't ever forget this! Thank you!"
Inside the foyer to Afterlife, Samara waited for Thane off to the side as a steady stream of people tapered off. The assassin suddenly emerged from the shadows. Like clockwork, he smoothed the collar of his suit with one slick, continuous gesture, raising one eyebrow as if to acknowledge the asari's eyes upon him and wonder where he'd been.
She folded her arms neatly behind her back, observing as he then adjusted the cuffs of his jacket again. Surely, it had to be some sort of tic or habit he had, she wondered.
"Tell me Thane, how did you come to know of Morinth?"
"My network of contacts have spoken of her name on occasion. And, once or twice in the past, some hanar I was familiar with had sent other assassins after her," he said. Thane brushed aside a batarian who had a little too much to drink that evening. "They never came back. When they found the bodies, they gave up trying to kill her."
"I see," Samara said. "I am curious as to why they did not send you. After all, you are quite the accomplished assassin."
"The hanar are not as simple as the rest of the galaxy would lead you to believe. They know what an Ardat-Yakshi is and what comes with them. They know how they work," Thane continued.
Without warning, he stopped cold and lapsed into a momentary flashback. "Twitching flesh. Fingers, cold and limp. There is no blood on the outside, yet blood everywhere, inside her. Inside her brain, the medic says. Hemorrhage. The eyes, rolled backwards to see the insides of her skulls, they say all that needs to be said. Her face contorted into raw, tangible fear, realizing that she was caught in the threshold between the dying and the living."
At least one or two patrons in the bar stopped their braying and revere to gawk at the strange drell speaking in abstracts, but quickly minded their own business when Samara flashed them an icy stare.
"She was only an acquaintance. One of the few Spectres who openly worked as a liaison for assassins," he concluded. "She did not deserve to die dishonorably like that."
They approached the stairwell leading to Aria's self-styled throne that overlooked the whole main floor of the club. When Thane's eyes locked with Aria's, she appeared to be leaning over to Anto before returning to her perch. Like a domino effect, Grizz pointed to the pair and yelled above the noise just loud enough for Thane to hear that they were being summoned to meet with the asari herself.
As they rounded up the stairwell, Aria jerked her head to the left and told them to have a seat if they cared to do so. Samara politely declined the conversation, though Thane took the surly asari up on the offer.
"So, when the varren is away, the pyjacks come out to play I see," quipped Aria. "Usually I see either one of you tagging behind Commander Shepard." She sipped some liquor from a thin, colored glass. "Where is she?"
Thane steepled his fingers together; elbows firmly planted on his knees. He exchanged glances with Samara, quietly agreeing between one another that he would be the one to speak in this conversation.
"Shepard has other business she needed to attend to off world," he said bluntly. "We're looking for an asari fugitive. She is an Ardat-Yakshi. We received word that she is hiding out here on Omega."
Aria's eyes became half-closed with her lips curled into a subtle frown.
"I knew it," she hissed. "There'd been rumors flying all over the station that one of those things made her way to Omega. Part of me didn't want to believe them, but seeing a justicar here is never a good sign." Aria set her glass down.
"You know she's here," Thane began, "but you haven't taken any steps to kill her?"
Aria threw her head back, rocking it side to side. With the shrug of a shoulder, she reached down and scooped her glass of ale back into her thin fingers. She took a long, calculated sip. "Why would I?" She scoffed. "I know better than to fuck with an Ardat-Yakshi. Besides, she hasn’t tried to seduce me yet."
Thane leaned in closer. "Would you happen to know of any leads that may be useful to us then? It may just prevent her from ever trying."
Aria gave Thane a smirk, indicating she was rather impressed by his remark. "Drell, you've got some nerve," she snorted. "You want leads? Rumors say her last victim was a young girl down over in the apartments. Near the market place, if you want specifics.” She swirled her glass around between her fingers. "That's where I'd start looking. Anything else besides that?" She waved a hand at them. "You're on your own."
Thane sat up and gave a brief bow to Aria, thanking her for her cooperation.
As their bodies turned the corner, making their way back down the grimy, dimly red-lit stairs, Thane overheard Aria muttering to Anto that she would hear scuttlebutt of a dead drell and a dead justicar somewhere in one of the backalleys, give or take a day or two, if one didn't loot the clothes and goods from their corpses first without telling anyone.
Scouring the markets for any bit of information, Samara and Thane either received muddled answers or were blindly ignored altogether. Merchants, patrons and the homeless on the streets. No one seemed to know or care. Sadly, they were not the least bit surprised that virtually no one wanted to cooperate or claimed to not know a thing. Thane could see this weighing heavily on Samara's heart, even if she did not outwardly express it.
Samara had told him that with each second they spent asking meant another second in which Morinth could potentially be luring another innocent into her trap. They were both in agreement that they had to step it up, lest someone else suffer the same fate as this unknown girl.
Thane eventually came upon a young quarian, Kenn, working behind a shop counter. So far as Thane knew, he was the last person in the general area to be approached. Of those encountered thus far on the station, he seemed to be the most approachable. Kenn seemed to be unaware of his surroundings or that there was a drell at the counter; instead mumbling to himself about credits, a 'Harrot' and possibly about his Pilgrimage.
"Excuse me," Thane spoke in a gentle tone, inadvertently startling the quarian. "Do you have a moment?"
"D-d-do you need something?" asked Kenn as he fidgeted a little.
"I'm looking for information on a girl who was murdered recently," said Thane. "Would you happen to know anything about her? Name, whereabouts... anything?"
If one could see a quarian's face go flat or pale, then Thane would have seen Kenn's do so. Rubbing the back of his neck, Kenn carefully, but hesitantly nodded. Admittedly, he had far more important concerns to deal with, but this for whatever the reason took him completely by surprise.
"... Nef?" He sighed. "Poor Nef. She was one of the few genuinely nice people here. She was far too young and nice to die so soon."
Samara, having overheard the conversation, stepped in. "What do you know of this Nef's passing?"
Kenn set down a small box of supplies, leaning against one of the corners of the stall. His shoulders slouched and his head hung slightly low, as if he dreaded even discussing this subject. Even through his colored visor, his eyes hinted that this event was still raw in his mind.
"Not much, I'm afraid. Nef occasionally came by the store to see how I was doing and if I'd gotten off of this place yet. Her visits soon became fewer and fewer until she stopped coming altogether," he reminisced. His voice tightened in pitch. "Then one day, I found out she was dead from a regular customer. Breaking the news to Diana... keelah, that was the hardest thing I've ever had to do."
Thane frowned. "I see. Did anyone give any indication of how Nef may have died?"
The quarian's head nodded side to side. "I don't remember and if they did, they didn't say. Me? I've been trying to forget. But I'm with Diana. I believe she was murdered." He sounded rather saddened just by remembering the moment. "If you're going to track down her murderer, I should take you to see Diana. She'd know more than I would. Not to mention it'd really make her feel better knowing someone else cares about seeing Nef's murder brought to justice."
Stepping out from behind the counter, Kenn locked up the shop terminal and told them to follow. He asked them various questions, why they were there and why they'd taken an interest in Nef's slaying. Samara only gave brief answers, not once alluding to the fact that the human's killer was her daughter. The last thing they wanted to do was raise suspicion and thus have the wrong people turn on them.
Kenn did not say much else about Nef, other than adding to his previous story. Nef was intrigued by quarians and thought their suits, at least, were 'artistically' and elegantly simplistic, once saying she wanted to incorporate it into one of her 'works'. It never came to pass.
"Well, here's her place." He pointed to an inconspicuous door. "Please, be kind to her. She's... she's still heartbroken over all of this."
"We shall do our best to be respectful," Samara acknowledged. "Thank you for your assistance."
"No, thank you," he insisted. "For actually having the hearts to help her." He waved to them as he proceeded to return to his shop. " Keelah se'lai."
Diana paced about her home, wrought with anguish that no one on the station would ever understand. All but one of the rooms in the 4 room apartment were open. The only one that was closed had belonged to her daughter. She dared not to touch a thing, vowing that she would leave it 'as it was'; never moving a thing, even to dust. It was because of this solemn vow, that she would never leave Omega, despite how much she abhorred it.
As tears s tarted to well up in her eyes, Diana gasped as she heard a faint knock on the door. Eyeing a pistol on the table by the door -as it was wise for anyone here to have some armament for self-defense-, a voice inside her urged her not to brandish it and to open the door. The voice... it was soft, familiar. To Diana's ears and heart, it was Nef's.
Cautiously, Diana opened the door. There, but a few feet away from here, was an armored asari who was armored in red and dark blue. Beside her, was a drell, dressed in black leather that matched his seemingly soulless black eyes. They did not mug her upon contact; a sign in the slums of Omega that they truly did not mean any harm at all.
"May I help you?" Diana asked. Her eyes darted to the pistol, but the voice urged her to look away from the weapon.
"Are you Nef's mother?" asked Thane in return.
Diana took a few steps back, more out of shock than anything. "Yes," she said, her voice slightly wavering. "Yes, I am. How do you know about my daughter?"
"The quarian down in the markets told us. He believes that Nef was murdered," said Samara. "Was she?"
Overcome with grief, Diana sat down in a nearby chair, hanging her head to hide it from her unknown guests. Wrenching her hands together, she struggled to stay composed and wrestled with deciding whether or not to tell these strangers what had happened or to ask them for their help. For all she knew, they probably were just another well-wisher who couldn't be assed into assisting her.
"Doctor Abrams insisted it was a brain hemorrhage or an aneurysm. There were no outside injuries to her body, so he told me it was of 'natural causes' or some unknown illness." She clenched her hands into tightly held fists. "But I know it's not true! She was murdered!"
Murdered. Upon saying the words, Diana saw a faint but visceral reaction on the drell's face. As if he too shared a similar pain in his own heart.
Diana then offered them a seat on the couch, telling them what she felt was pertinent information about Nef's life up until her death. She was a shy, quiet type with few friends, including Kenn, whom she befriended not long after he'd arrived on Omega. She was also a skilled artist, spending most of her time at home working on sculptures. Diana then added that a few off-world galleries were becoming interested in her artwork, though Nef often balked at selling her own work, partially because she became 'attached' to it after its creation.
But, as the story went, a few weeks prior, there was a sudden change in her daughter's behavior. She had somehow drawn the attention of an asari named Morinth. As Diana uttered this name, Samara's head upturned slightly, her eyes still focused on the human. Nef wouldn't stop gushing on and on about Morinth, describing her on par with a 'queen'. Diana mentioned that she never met this asari, but knew she was trouble all the same. Especially since she had been an enabler and had given her daughter drugs.
"Every time she came home, Nef acted as if she was in another time or place." Diana rubbed one of her eyes. "The change was so sudden. Nef became so tired or distracted when she wasn't around Morinth. She became increasingly hostile on top of everything else."
Finally, and in heart-wrenching detail, she told them of the last day she'd seen Nef. They had gotten into an argument over her change in lifestyle and of her asari 'friend'. There was screaming, followed by Nef storming out of the apartment to go down to the VIP section of the Afterlife club. She did not come home that evening, but Diana suspected she would eventually.
Then, Nef had called her to say she was going back to Morinth's apartment with her and she would return in the morning and wanted to apologize for her behavior, telling her mother that she loved her. Choking back the tears, Diana then concluded her story by adding those were the last words that she had heard from her. A few days later, she found out from Kenn that Nef's body had been found somewhere, dumped in a back alley over by Harrot's shop.
Samara briefly turned away for reasons that Diana did not know. Thane buried his face into his hands, opting to not say a word.
"May we inspect her room, please?" Thane asked.
Diana stood up and headed over to the door leading into Nef's room. She unlocked it, but did not open it. The pain was still too great for her to bear looking at it another time.
"You may. Everything is as it was they day she left," she explained, her voice steadily cracking. "The way it will always be. My baby is... My baby..."
Unable to hold it in any longer, Diana burst into a steady stream of tears, hiding her face from the two. Swiftly, but also gently, she felt something warm wrap around her, carefully pulling her towards the chest of the drell that was with her.
Knowing she was in 'safe' arms, Diana burrowed her face into the drell's shoulder and sobbed. He whispered a small prayer under breath, but just loud enough so that she could hear it over her anguish.
"Arashu, goddess of motherhood and protection, be her shield; grant that her body be healed and her soul brought peace in the light of your avenging wrath," uttered Thane. With his soothing words and voice, Diana eased back on her tears.
"Th-thank you." Diana dabbed her eyes with the cuff of her sleeve. "I'm sorry. I just... I miss her so much... the pain lingers, day in and day out..."
Letting go of her, Thane stepped back and aside, allowing Samara the chance to speak.
"I too know what it is like to lose a daughter," she said. "By the will of the goddess, your daughter will be avenged. I swear it."
Sacred places were not unfamiliar to Thane. A church or a temple could be found on every corner of Kahje, and while some would say that to be an exaggeration, it was in actuality truth. This room was not a church nor a temple. It wasn't even a shrine. It was, as it appeared to be, a simple room belonging to a youthful lady who was claimed by the sea long before it should have been her time. It lacked the grand architecture of an Enkindler church or simplistic curves of a drell temple. But the reverence that filled it, this room... the reverence of a mother's undying love, made it feel like a truly sacred place in its own right.
Delicately, Samara and Thane inspected what they could without disturbing anything else, even by the slightest inch. They'd found a note on the floor, written by Morinth to Nef.
On the wrinkled and unkept bed, they happened upon Nef's video diary, which had last been updated a week prior, supposedly the last entry being just before or on the day of her death. Leery, but determined to find answers, they watched three of the most recent entries, ending with the most current one. She spoke of meeting Morinth, going on about an elcor sculptor whom the seductress was fascinated with. Talk of drugs popped up occasionally, in reference to the infamous drug dubbed 'Hallex'. A movie vid named 'Vaenia' was briefly mentioned too. It seemed like the sort of thing Morinth would be interested in, if Samara's comments to Thane afterward held any weight.
After the last and newest entry was played, Samara told Thane she'd had enough. It was time to go and to formulate a new plan.
"Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to look. I assure you, everything is as it was left," said Samara, slightly bowing. "I promise you, we will bring Nef's murderer to justice so that she may be at peace."
“And that you may be at peace, as well,” Thane added.
"Bless both of you." Diana each took their hands into hers, holding onto them tightly. "I don't know who either of you are or how you came to find out about this, but... be careful. And please, let me know once her killer is taken care of. Maybe the nights will be easier to sleep through again."
Samara did not consider herself to be a master tactician by any means, or even a leader. In her maiden years, she could easily come up with a quick, last-minute plot that would prove to be beneficial for her to meet a need in capturing -and then killing- a criminal. Others, well, she preferred not to dwell on those particular moments in her past life. Here, she knew what to do in order to confront Morinth. She was the closest she'd been in centuries, as she told Thane.
Everything now would have to be carefully plotted and timed, lest the monster go back underground for seventy years or more.
"If Morinth even so much as suspects something is amiss or catches even the slightest glimpse of me, she will escape," said Samara. "She has hundreds of escape routes. I have no doubt she is intimately familiar with Omega and knows where to hide without being detected."
Her companion nodded. "Of course. Word travels fast around Omega," said Thane. "I would not be at all surprised if there are murmurs of our pursuit going about."
She pointed east of the apartment block they were in. "Come, we must lay low and formulate our own plan if we wish to be successful."
They now took up a brief residence in an abandoned apartment a ways down from Diana's home. Upon entering, they saw that it was a complete mess. Books were strewn all over the floor. A table was turned over and dried blood stains smeared across the light-colored walls that were tinted with rust tones from the lights outside. Looking out a broken window, Thane gazed down into the endless void that was the center of the station. He contemplated just how high up they were and the depth gave him pause to think of just how vast the station really was. The Citadel's twisted reflection... it lived up to the moniker.
Thane came to know Samara as a quiet, level-headed individual. This was a rare opportunity for him to see her as no one else ever did. Her emotions could be read all over her. If it was not noticeable now, it certainly was more than ever. But the justicar still remained cold, not once breaking her calm veneer. How compelling she was; calling back to mind memories of another asari whom he'd crossed paths with in his youth... before Irikah. A pity that she ended up dead not long after, a victim of hubris, if he remembered correctly.
"My heart aches for Diana," spoke Thane, shattering the uncomfortable silence. "As it does for you." His hands lightly touched what was left the glass; a faint breeze blowing against his jacket collar.
Samara's head jerked into Thane's direction. "I told you once before Thane, I do not want or need pity," she politely snapped. "What I have brought into the world is my sin. My burden to carry. I have come to terms with this many years ago."
"You told Diana that you had lost a daughter," he tact fully responded. "That's why I'm giving you my sympathy." He wrapped one arm around one of his knees. "Sympathy in this case is different from pity just for pity's sake. I myself am not fond of it either." He rested the back of his head against a wall. "Think of what I say to you as empathetic concern, if you must."
Samara rested against a doorway; her hands neatly folded together behind her back. "I take it you do not wish for transparent clemency from others over what happened with your son?"
Green fingers traced across a thin crack in the glass. A piece of it shattered at his touch.
"Yes," he murmured. "I do not wish anyone to feel sorry for what I have done. Kolyat's circumstances were not of his doing, but of my own," gazing downward. Thane could envision a time when his son was but a little infant; filled with so much promise. Promise that he, as a father, had all but destroyed. "The choices I had made caused his body to do what it wills. He is..." he swallowed an invisible rock down his throat. "His spirit is in the process of healing. The scars will always be there. Scars I helped to create."
"I see," she hummed. "That is where we are similar and yet so different, Thane. Perhaps that is why I feel as if it is easy to share this burden with you and you alone."
In this rusty-tinted room, he sensed that they were bot h were aware they had exposed themselves to one another. Bonds of whispered trust had been forged in these raw vulnerabilities, leading them to each divulge secrets that had been kept tightly hidden under their breasts. Secrets of past shame and shared parental sorrow.
"Likewise," he faintly smiled. "I am honored to help you carry this burden as well."
For many centuries, Samara admitted she had at times felt alone. Left to carry a cross on her own. One that she was utterly convinced she had to carry by herself. How interesting that she would find another who knew of it as well, she told him. The goddess shone brightly down upon her the moment she'd met paths with Shepard on Illium -with the drell in tow beside a turian- and she didn't even realize it, she said, which made Thane’s lips curl into a half-smile.
"As we are now known to be in Commander Shepard's company, she could be aware of what you look like," explained the justicar. She eyeballed Thane from head to toe as she walked around him in a slow, deliberate circle. "A disguise would be most useful, given that drell are uncommon in this place."
Though she could not see it in the faded light, the drell rolled his eyes. "In all honesty, I'm not fond of disguises. Too superficial and not nearly as effective as a well-timed sniper shot. Also runs the risk of unwanted collateral damage." Thane cocked his head to the right. "Never the less, whatever draws as little attention will work."
Out of the corner of her eyes, Samara saw some sort of clothing sticking out of a dresser drawer. A pant leg, or it could have been a jacket sleeve. Reaching down, she pulled the lump of fabric out, revealing it to be a dark blue jacket, trimmed with a crimson red. A slick, leathery texture at that. Opening the drawer, she happened upon a matching pair of pants. The perfect ensemble for the individual who was going to an exclusive nightclub, she thought.
As she politely dumped the clothing in Thane's hands, the drell was apparently resisting some innate urge to make a sour face.
"I'd like to think Morinth would go more for a person who at least has some aesthetic taste," quipped Thane.
For the first time in many moons, she smiled. "You would be surprised. She is drawn to those who have outward beauty, true, but she is more drawn to those who are artists. Creators," explained Samara. "You have an advantage over the others, due to your perfect memory and the artful way you speak of them. Descriptive, yet abstract. Those memories will entrance her. They will draw her in and captivate her. It is a unique spark that belongs only to you and your people."
"It would be nice for it to be of good use for a change," he mumbled. "Very well. I shall return in a moment."
In an adjacent room, Thane had stripped himself of his familiar and comfortable clothing for something less flattering to his tastes. Sliding an arm through a sleeve, he recalled an earlier conversation with Samara. She had informed him that he must remain inconspicuous. His face was now exposed to the galaxy since traveling with Shepard. Morinth, a frighteningly bright woman, would recognize him instantly if he were to show up in his dark gray leather suit. Thane felt ill at ease wearing this... the clothes of a dead man. When this was over, he vowed that he would return them here, which would put his own concerns at ease.
Catching his reflection in a mirror , Thane suddenly experienced one of his memory flashbacks, returning him to a point in time of his youth. His fingers absentmindedly trailed down his bare torso as the memory came to his forefront.
Streetlights, lit in alternating rows. There stands a young woman, preened and posed for the discerning clientele. She has the scent of rose, with a touch of the sea. Hands neatly manicured, toes trimmed. Her dress hugs every thin curve on her body, the length down to her thick knees. She waits in the light, I wait in the shadows. There comes a man, his hands rife with the blood of the innocent in the lines of his palms. Lured in to the trap, she knows that she may not live after this. In the receding shadows of the building tops, the sight is lined up. One heartbeat, I pull the trigger. Two heartbeats, blue blood flows from his skull. In three heartbeats, he falls dead; the young woman relieved that she shall live to see the rising sun once more.
His mind returned to the present, zipping up the ribbed shirt that came with the jacket. Pivoting slightly on a foot, he inspected himself in the glass. Tight-fitting in some of the more obvious places, he noted. If Shepard were here, she would have cracked an obvious joke about how his body really would be used as a weapon this time, or something to that extent. He was secretly pleased that she wasn't here at all and equal parts thankful that her tastes ran more in the direction of slender, plated creatures that didn't look the least bit near human.
Lacing up the boots, he stepped out and met Samara half-way.
"Impressive." A corner of her lips rose. "The red brings out a certain iridescent quality to your skin."
Tugging on the jacket, Thane gave her a look that screamed '… Really now?', much to her amusement. Such moments of levity had been few and far in between, even to the point where he found it funny. A bit degrading and at the expense of his inability to see certain colors, but funny, none the less.
"Thank you, I think," he said as they headed for the door.
In an inconspicuous hallway stood a lone turian by a rusty-looking door. His spindly arms were folded across his broad chest, leaning back ever so slightly on the grimy wall beside him. His green eyes darted side to side, keeping a careful eye out for anyone who even had the gall to come into his "space". Kicking a stray box, he began pacing back and forth, never once leaving about one foot from the door.
He came to a halt as out of the corner of his right eye, he saw a green person approach him. The guard, curious about this, returned to his post with haste and met the stranger, who was Thane, at but a few inches short of the door. Drell were uncommon on the streets of the station, true, but compounded to this was an asari by his side. The bouncer resisted the urge to make a comment about her appearance, as she -Samara- looked to be the type of asari who wouldn't hesitate to turn his mouth inside out should he even dare make a pass at her.
"Funny seeing a drell around these parts. Figured you'd all be off in a hanar church or something," he quipped. "What do you want?"
"A credible source tells me that this is the place to be on Omega," said Thane. “I heard it’s better than Afterlife itself.”
The bouncer belted out a laugh. He wasn't sure if the drell was yanking his chain or if he really was naive as the hanar themselves appeared to be.
"True facts," he snorted. The bouncer leaned his back against the wall. "Who's the wise man that told you?"
Tilting his head upward to the right, Thane coolly rested his arms behind his back and took a single step forward. The turian, for all his outward occupational-borne toughness, felt an ice cold jolt down his back as he stared into the black eyes of the man who was before him. There was only one other person whose eyes did that to him, someone who's aura lingered in the air around the entrance.
"Jaruut," Thane answered. “I take it you’ve heard of him?”
As if it were a cue, the bouncer stepped aside, gesturing for Thane and Samara to enter in to the elevator. They paid no mind to him as he quickly prattled on about the one, sole rule that the mythical lounge had.
"Fair enough, go on in." He pointed to the now opened door. "Word to the wise. Start a fight, we'll throw your asses out quicker than you can say 'ryncol'. But if someone thumps you first, it's all fair game."
"Now is when you must go in alone, Thane," warned Samara the second they stepped inside the elevator. "Morinth will be watching from the shadows. You must do whatever you can to pique her interest and not cause her to grow bored."
"I have the information from Nef's journal. That much will be of some use to me if we engage in conversation," noted Thane, tugging on the cuffs of the jacket. He didn't like the rough texture of the gloves. It made his scales itch. "Is there anything else I should know about her? Anything that may be of assistance when trying to catch her interest?"
Samara's head motioned up and down and she told him of the Ardat-Yakshi's preference for power over meekness and humility. They ran through their plan one more time. Thane opted to begin a pre-hunt meditation, which Samara obliged.
Strips of light intermittently rolled through the slanted air shafts of the elevator car, marking its slow descent down into the depths of the station. Thane was sitting down, rigid and in total silence. He prayed to Arashu once more, invoking her to protect not just himself, but also Samara, knowing that this weighed heavily within her. He invoked Amonkira for the strength to locate and kill Morinth in a successful hunt.
Samara made out Thane's shape in the haze; a faint shimmer from the leathery surface of the jacket and pants each time the light rolled by. A nagging voice, lodged in the recesses of her mind, whispered to her its doubts about the task at hand. It taunted her with an outcome in which Thane would succumb to Morinth's seduction, becoming an empty husk of a drell. That his blood would stain her hands. And that his son, Kolyat, would swear a deep and swift revenge upon both her and her daughters for allowing this to happen to his father, the man whom he had only recently come to know again. Samara knew both she and Morinth were responsible for the deaths of many: mothers and fathers. Sons and daughters. Husbands and wives. The voice's words nibbled inch by inch until her discomfort and doubt manifested itself into a simple, if noticeable frown.
She shook her head side to side, hoping to rid herself of her unseen assailant.
"Thane," she blurted out.
"You needn't worry about me," Thane interrupted, as if he knew of her current state of mind. "I'll know what to do when the time comes."
"Forgive me." she nodded. "I should not let my own unchecked emotions control me."
He arose. "Whatever happens," he placed a hand on her shoulder. She did not try to move it. "Arashu shall protect us."
"Of course." She swallowed a little. "It appears we have reached our destination." They exited the door, with Thane allowing her to step outside first. "Know that while you will be on your own once you step through those doors, I will not be far. Should the need arise, I will come to your aid."
Thane's eyelids fluttered. "I hope that will not be necessary."
Her stomach lurched as she eyed her companion heading through a large, oddly smooth and well-cared for set of doors and into the smoky and seedy darkness within. Now, only time would tell if this gambit would come to fruition.
Emerging inside, Thane gasped for air as he was overcome by the stench of layers of smoke and unmentionable scents, condensed and compacted into one isolated room. He could feel it upon his lips. It slinked into his nostrils; the varied scents of the patrons all merged into one invisible creature, but only one stood out above all. It was liken to Samara's. Only it was bitter. Dark. Right away, he knew it belonged to the Ardat-Yakshi. She was nowhere to be found. Not yet, anyways.
Getting his bearings, Thane reached into a pocket and was surprised to find a pair of sunglasses. Pleased, he slipped them upon his face, which covered his distinctive eyes. With a smile, he ventured further into the wide open club. He heard the hushed gossip of its patrons, telling one another that there was a drell inside their hallowed halls. Eyes came upon him as he sauntered up to the bar, leaning against it and supported by one arm.
"Well there's something you don't see every day." The bartender snorted. His hand moved in and out of a metal cup. "What brings a sharp-dressed drell like you to Afterlife?"
"What brings anyone here?" He scoffed. Lowering the sunglasses just an inch on the bridge of his thin nose, Thane raised a brow towards the bartender; a corner of his lip curled upward. "Perhaps I want to be here. What a better way to spend an evening than enveloped in the throngs of the ones who crave the sensory experience like I do?"
For the following minutes after, Thane and the bartender had an exchange of words between one another. Thane related a time in his youth when he was hired by a rather surly batarian who wanted to take down a long time customer -also a batarian- for one minor transgression. When asked for what by a krogan who happened to be sitting next to him, Thane told them it was all because he forgot to tip one of his favorite waitresses. He added a footnote that the man also had a rather large party and stayed way past the closing hour of the saloon, adding insult to injury.
"Ha! Classic. I've been tempted to do that a couple times m'self," said the bartender with a sigh. "Wordy, but you've got style." He thumbed to the liquor cabinet behind him. "Tell you what. I don't get any customers like you all that often, 'specially ones that have class. Have one on the house, your pick."
Picking a smooth, Luisa-made ale, Thane reclined back on the bar stool and slowly imbibed. A small group of people, curious about his adventures, gathered around him and begged him to tell of another tale. Amused at this sudden display of attention, Thane told them that the saloon story was one of the more stranger hits he undertook, but certainly not the strangest. That honor, said Thane, went to a time involving a hanar, a human and an issue of Fornax magazine. He said no more than that, opting only give a mischievous smile as he placed the glass against his lips.
As his throat contracted in swallow, he felt two fingers roll down his throat as a bulge traveled downward. They were not his own, rather, they were silk smooth and uncovered. A woman was stand ing right behind him, her other hand resting on one of his hips. A warm breath touched his neck, chilling instantly the next second. Her breasts were pressed against his back and her hold became tighter as a hand brushed across his chest.
"Hey there," murmured the stranger into his ear. "Did you come here alone?"
His nerves tingled in her presence. He felt his heartbeat quicken. Yet he did not move a single inch.
"Yes," he answered. "Did you?"
A soft giggle, directly into his ear canal. She pulled away, though her hands lingered upon his shoulders. "I always come alone," she grinned. "Gets kind of boring sometimes, especially when I have no one to dance with." The asari's head turned upward to the ceiling, pouting. "And it's my favorite song too. Good beats, a pulsating tempo... only the best." She breathed in his scent. "You're pretty much the only person in this club who has good taste tonight. I just have to ask..."
His eyelids fluttered as her chin hovered in the curve between neck and shoulder. Thane could hear her voice echo within his mind. The reverberations of every pitch and tonal quality stirred within him long dormant sensations he'd carefully hidden away from the prying affections of others.
"Can you dance?"
Thane adjusted the sunglasses, which had become crooked as her head retreated and inadvertently nudged them. "Quite well," he said. "Both in formal dance and of the less formal variety."
With little effort, the asari turned Thane around and was abruptly taken aback at what she saw. The smooth shape of his face, silver earring clips in even number, how his clothes seemed to bond with every sinuous curve of his thin body.
"You, me, the dance floor," she said, taking his hand into hers. Thane's mouth briefly was open in aghast at how ice cold her skin was against his own. "I'll lead."
Throwing his head back in time with the music, Thane embraced the deep pulsating bass-line. It reverberated within his chest, amplifying his heartbeat twofold. He moved about the dance floor in one sleek, smooth continuous movement after another, never once lifting his feet up from the technicolor ground. His body writhed in one direction, allowing his partner to move along with. Her arms snaked around him. Their hips just barely touching. The other dancers in the vicinity paid no attention to them at first. They soon became entranced by their liquid movement and that they were easily sashaying through the crowd with the greatest of ease.
The asari inhaled a trace of his essence; his being. The drell's fluid body movements reminded her of her own, likened to crystal clear water, uninterrupted in its flow. She could vividly taste the intangible person on her pointed tongue as, during a prolonged low line in the melody, she again rubbed her head against the back of his neck, her nose tickled by the scaly fringe. There was temptation to lick his skin to intake its hallucinogenic properties, soaking it into her system with the drugs that had virtually become part of her bloodstream.
"So, the hanar teach you how to dance?" She asked, just loud enough above the music so she didn't have to shout.
Thane spun around on one heel and was now facing the asari. It was the first time he had gotten a clear glimpse of her. He stopped cold. The asari's eyes and face looked just like Samara's, only her person was much darker... sinister.
"Something wrong?" She inquired in a somewhat pouting tone.
"I..." He rubbed a palm against his ribs. Quick thinking, he came up with a bluff and hoped she would call it. "I need to sit down for a moment. It's becoming difficult to breathe at the moment."
She pouted slightly, though it was hard to see in the shade. The bluff had been called.
"Right, your people have that one disease. What a shame, " she said, perhaps mockingly. "I've got a table back over there. Besides, I could use a good shot or two of ice brandy." Morinth, though she did not yet reveal her name to him, again took his hand into hers, leading him away from the dance floor and towards a private booth in a dimly lit corner somewhere in the back of Afterlife. "This way."
Secluded from the unwashed and untamed, Morinth sat across from Thane in the booth seating. Fairly casually, her hands lay on the table and legs neatly crossed. A foot dangled in the air under the table, discreetly stroking the inside of Thane's left thigh with the tip of her heeled toes. Unlike her, Thane was slightly hunched over. His hands, clasped together, hid his flushed cheeks. The air remained saturated with body heat and musk. Thane began to feel himself slowly lose control of his inhibitions and thus fought to remain firm control of both body and soul. Morinth's voice was like a siren's song, reminiscent of the ancient story of a drell goddess who would merely speak words or sing a song of seduction and both men and women would beckon to her call. An unwanted heat began to build up inside him. He hoped it was just exhaustion.
"Those were some good moves out there," she lauded. "It's been a long time since I've ever seen anyone move like that. It's intoxicating."
"You are quite a master of it in your own right." He sipped the ice brandy to take his mind off of his body's rebellion. "I take it that's a proclivity of yours?"
Morinth's mouth curled at both corners. "Couple it with a dose of Hallex and it's like I'm in another place." She swirled her drink for a few seconds. "But enough about me. I've only met a handful of drell in my lifetime. They were alright, but they lacked a certain spark. You've got that spark I'm looking for." Morinth batted her eyelashes. "Tell me about you ."
He moved his legs from the path of Morinth's frisky foot. "I'm an assassin," he said. "One of the few who prefers to be direct ."
"Do tell," Morinth shifted positions; an idle finger spinning in her cocktail. "Most assassins I hear prefer to hide in the shadows. Makes it cleaner to take down their opponents that way."
"For some, yes," Thane shrugged. "You can be surprised at how clean and effective you can be when you take down someone in close quarters. Many methods, even."
He rested his hands upon his belly, reclining back a tad and fixed his eyes a hair above her shoulders. It unnerved him to stare directly in the bright blue irises, which drew him in like a moth to a fire. He didn't want to look. But he did. Fingers twitched below the table as he awaited her response. She seemed to be the type who preferred neatness over gore.
"Is that so? I'm a fan of the neatness way myself. There's a certain thrill to slipping the knife in the back with all the swiftness of the whispers of a low wind on Tuchanka," Morinth mused. "Pulling the knife out with care... a few drops of blood as the knife is in the air, but only if you're sloppy about it." The asari buffed her nails against her chest. "I like that. And I also like how you have an appreciation for it too."
She reached over and dragged a finger down his nose, playfully. When her finger lifted, he scrunched his nose in disgust.
"More than an appreciation I bet. You've got a good story to tell," she winked. "If you know what I mean."
Playing along with her advances, Thane decided to pull a still fresh memory from the inner recesses of his mind. "As you wish," his pupils dilated and threw his head back. "Paranoia creeps across her face. She screams, pointing fingers in every which direction but above. Cast in the darkness, I fall. Fists connect to hard helmets. She spins, her dark blue flesh turning milk-tinted in fear. As the guards lie dead, I am inches from her . Palpable fear, I draw her close. Muzzle of gun pressed against the soft flesh, I pull the trigger. Her last gasps of life ring within my ears. Lifeless, she slumps into my arms, limp. Her eyes now have rolled back into her head, seeing nothing and yet, everything. Her hands now lie against her breast, clasped together, praying for repose of her soul. Through the ribbed shutters of her office, the warmth of the morning sun beats upon my back. My own hands are clasped together, now praying for repose of my soul."
Morinth's face glazed over. "Goddess." She pressed a finger against her lower lip. "That's incredible. I knew your species had that perfect memory, but hearing one firsthand? Beautiful."
Morinth dipped the glass downward. Light twinkled on the surface of the ice brandy, shimmering against the rusty air. "Are all your memories like that?"
Thane's shoulders went up and then down. Everything was becoming clouded and muddled, but his resolve was still strong.
"Yes. My blessing and my curse is to remember things in detail. Sometimes vivid and concrete, other times venturing into the abstract, as you witnessed. Every detail is imprinted and nothing is left forgotten," he explained. Thane's mind briefly wandered as the music wormed its way back into his head. Inspecting his liquor, the notion that Morinth could have slipped a Hallex into his drink was plausible. "I see all, I remember all, I feel it all."
Morinth licked her lips in anticipation. Tonight was indeed a fortuitous night for her.
"You feel it all?" She leaned in closer to the table. "Tell me more."
In intricate detail, he plunged himself into an uncomfortable zone and revealed a slice of his inner world to her. Discomfort was settling in, but he could not and would not break character -so to speak- and tip the seductress off that something was amiss. All that he had seen, from the first glimpse of the world outside the day he had been brought into the world to the first time he had fallen down on sandy, glass shard-ridden ground and made seven bloody cuts on his knees as a child no older than six years old. His first hit as an assassin was told in a fashion that was a beautiful melody to Morinth's ears. Her impulses craved this man. She wanted all of him. To dominate his body; to reave his soul into her own. Thane was like no other man of any species who she'd encountered before: human, turian, krogan, or quarian.
If Morinth's expressions were of any indication to Thane, she didn't want him. No, she needed him.
"I'm getting tired of this place," she sounded anxious. "I've got an apartment just around the way. What do you say we go there and you can tell me more tonight? I'm just dying to hear more of them."
The trap had been baited and the prey had bit. But it left Thane to wonder who was the prey and who was the predator now.
Taking off his sunglasses, Thane slipped them into his pocket. "An interesting proposition," he hummed. "Lead the way."
"With pleasure ."
Morinth collapsed onto the couch; arms and legs briefly flailing in the air as she regained her senses. In the confines of her apartment, she was both safe and predatory. Urging Thane to look around the living space, she began to calculate just how she would lure him into her web. Just being around him was enough for her, but she desperately wanted to take him in more ways than one.
Watching his thin figure move about the apartment drove her senses in every which direction. She focused on his hips and how he slightly swayed as he walked, inspecting a giant statue up by the kitchen area. The broadness of his chest and shoulders, accentuated by two long arms that gracefully pressed upon a railing as he checked out a chess set at the base of the small flight of stairs. She explained to him a metaphor about chess, likening it to a meticulous, carefully planned game of domination over another. Or so he swore she said, he was pay ing no attention to her words.
Idly, she ran her fingers on the arm of the couch. Vividly, she imagined and plotted the many ways she would ravage him during the melding. Fingertips burrowing into his arms, tearing off his shirt and dragging her claws across his breast; digging in and gripping his still beating heart in her hand. Suckling on the side fringes of his neck and hands fondling in him places that no one would in civilized interaction. Then, she would savor his dying gasps of air as his very being would be torn from his body and absorbed into her own.
Despite her sensuous thoughts, Morinth was quite collected. Her foot slowly wagged in the air, turning into half-circles and full revolutions. Thane, aware her eyes were upon him, remained calm. He did not want to engage her any further than he had and wondered where Samara was and when she would strike. That part of the plan he was not told about.
"You never did tell me what your name was," Morinth said, rolling her head side to side. "Not that I really get to know the names of people I meet. But you? You're a keeper."
"Sere," he answered. "And yours?"
There was a shrug of a shoulder. "Morinth," she yawned. She was growing impatient, but still wanted to play with her victim anyways. "The last name is unimportant." Her hand patted the seat next to her. "Come over here and sit down, love. I don't like to use my outdoor voice inside."
He did not respond to her request. He was fixated on the swords on the wall. "I see you have a penchant for swordplay," he observed. "Old turian war blades, even."
"Turians have that mastered down to a fine art form. I actually got those blades from a turian who was an accomplished military general, albeit retired. Loved dueling too. We sparred only once," she buffed her nails against her shoulder. "Seeing that look in his eyes, with the knowledge that he was going to die? Priceless."
"Yes, it can be quite intoxicating for people like us," he nodded. "A simple thrust of the blade changes everything. It adds a certain element that is so often lacking when gunfire is used in its place."
They continued to talk amongst themselves, until Thane sat down on the couch. He seemed to keep a considerable distance from her, something she didn't ignore. It didn't matter. She had him right where she wanted him now.
"Sere, I like the way you think," Morinth playfully giggled, still vainly attempting to seduce him towards her end of the couch. "You seem to know your stuff. Tell me though, and you can lie to me, I won't care," she inched over to him. "Have you ever truly experienced the feeling of safety?"
He took off his sunglasses, neatly folding them into a pocket. "It's my experience that people feel some semblance of safety just before they die," he noted. "Take you for instance. You were sitting on the opposite side of the couch two minutes before. While trying to distract me with idle conversation, ironically enough on the very subject we speak of, you have made your way up near to where I sit. Yet you're not close enough so that my safety feels compromised."
Well, she had to hand it to him for being quite intelligent, at least. It just gave her extra incentive to try and meld with him.
"You got guts, I'll give you that. Not many people I've met have been so bold before. I like that." She arose and approached him. "Independence over submission. You and I are quite alike, Sere."
"We both have..."
He was interrupted by the asari straddling herself onto his lap. Morinth positioned her face only a hair away from his. The tips of their noses barely touched and he could feel her breath warm his lips. Fingers stroked the back of his neck, another set grazed across his cheek.
"Save your words for later," she breathed into his neck.
All he could see now was her eyes, which had turned into a black void that seemed to take control of his body.
"Now then. Look into my eyes," she instructed. There was a ringing, or perhaps a vibration in the depths of his ear canals. "Tell me you want me. Tell me that you would do anything for me," her lips pressed against his. "Tell me that you would kill for me."
It was not his own conscience that called out to him at that moment. In the depths of his heart, he felt a sudden and sharp ping. The angelic voice of the one woman whom he loved spoke to him. Urging him to fight Morinth's influences, knowing that his body wanted to succumb to the carnal pleasures of the flesh. Irikah was not going to allow this.
His second set of eyelids shot open. "Not on your life," he hissed.
With a surprised gasp, Morinth came back to reality and was devoid of any emotion whatsoever. "Oh. I see what's going on now," she mumbled, pulling away from the drell. "The bitch decided she wanted someone else to do her dirty work for her."
As if on cue, appearing from the entryway was the 'bitch' herself. Cast in blue hues with crackling white energy, Samara's eyes were narrowed in steel-eyed resolve. Her footsteps were thunderous and she would not be daunted nor deterred. After 400 years, Thane knew the hour had come.
"MORINTH!" she boomed.
Allowing Thane to duck out of the way, Samara thrust her hand out and threw the chair over, sending Morinth tumbling backwards along with it. Crawling back onto her knees, the Ardat-Yakshi was going to pull no punches this time.
"... Mother," she spat.
"DO NOT CALL ME THAT!" boomed Samara, forcefully pushing her daughter against the window. The glass cracked upon impact, transforming the once smooth surface into a jagged and twisted array of patterns like a spider's web.
"I can call you whatever the hell I want..." spat Morinth, writhing against the dark energy. "MOTHER!"
Samara pressed upon her a crushing biotic blow. Falling to the ground like a ragdoll, Morinth was kneeling over, struggling to regain her breath. Samara was now encroaching on her territory.
Morinth took Thane by complete surprise; holding him in front of her as a makeshift shield. He felt himself paralyzed by dark energy, evidenced by the force field that froze him in place. He saw and heard everything and his mouth was wide open as if to scream. The resonance of the ardat-yakshi's voice began to take over the inside of his head, dominating every thread of thought process. Inside, he was screaming against the whispering voices vainly attempting to break free of the Ardat-Yakshi's power.
"You wanna get me, mother?" She sneered, jabbing him in the neck. "You'll have to get through your boy toy here first !"
Samara, for a split second, hesitated. The stasis soon faded away and Thane breathed with an audible shudder. But before he could have a chance to flex his fingers, Samara lifted him inches above ground and threw him to the second floor of the apartment and out of harm's way. He collided with a table and a chair, rolling over twice before his back smacked against the counter with a meaty thud. The world became black.
Making a grievous error, Samara's field of vision turned from Morinth to Thane, hoping that he would be out of harms way now. This did not go unnoticed by her daughter, who cracked her knuckles in extreme anticipation.
Wasting no spare seconds, Morinth's body flared up with a burst of dark energy. Samara saw her storming towards her. Both their eyes were fixated on the kill.
Morinth's face contorted into a monstrous grin of unbridled rage. "You always told me that I made a 'choice'," snarled Morinth, launching a blast at Samara. "I can't choose to stop being your daughter or that I was born with the gifts you gave me!" She threw another, knocking Samara down to her knees.
Samara was winded, struggling to keep up with her daughter's barrage. Morinth swatted the asari aside like she was nothing; soon crippling her in a tight grip of biotic fervor. Morinth visibly savored the chokehold she had upon her, watching as she fought with all her might to break the hold that was killing her. Reveling in every single second of this sadistic pleasure, Morinth decided to let her have it.
"Because of those 'gifts', I'm the genetic destiny of the asari!" She spat, clenching her hand. Samara screamed out in staggered agony as her throat became tightened. "I'm everything the asari race is afraid to be! I'm everything YOU are afraid of being!"
Morinth continued to tighten her hold. Sadism turned to genuine rage; the once twisted grin from her face turning to a furrowed grimace. "You think locking me up from the galaxy like I was some blight on the galactic society was love?" She hissed. "Screw that! You and your pathetic bondmate were just too stupid to see that I had potential! That I could be the most powerful asari that ever lived! That I could save the asari from themselves!"
The world, as seen through Thane's eyes, was blurred. Over Morinth's tirade, he began to have fragmented flashbacks to the day when he left Kolyat in the care of his aunts and uncles. The child's eyes, filled with tears, wondering where his father was going. Then, years later, hearing word through his contacts that his beloved son had begun to fall. Selfishly, he imagined what it would be like if he had to confront and kill Kolyat as Samara with Morinth. He couldn't bear the thought.
When he came completely to, the first and clearest thing he saw was Samara, screaming as she tried in vain to break the bonds Morinth had her captive in. Overcome with a sort of anger that he hadn't felt in many moons, he rose to his feet, balling his hands into fists. "No more," he growled.
Thane snuck up behind Morinth, emitting his own mass effect field to counter the one she had surrounded herself with. Every part of him -skin, nerves, brain waves and even internal organs- was alight with a white hot fire that threatened to consume him whole. His heart threatened to burst forth from his chest and his legs were becoming ill-formed jelly. Dark energy meeting was frightening in of itself. Morinth's god-like use of it was nightmarish.
Persevering, he grappled an arm around her neck, briefly cutting off her air supply. The dark energy that surrounded her dissipated in the blink of an eye.
"Kalihira have mercy on your soul," he recited in her ear. "Morinth."
Immediately, he gripped her arm in his hands and gave it a hard twist. A shrill scream filled the apartment. Stepping back, Thane watched as Morinth clutched her broken arm.
"You... you son of a bitch!" Morinth spat at him.
His only retort was a hard knee thrust square between her legs. Morinth momentarily blacked out and hit the ground on her broken arm, causing her again to cry out in pain. Samara heaved as she struggled to swallow air, cupping her hand over her bejeweled neck. He was pushed out of the way by Samara, who stormed over to Morinth.
Morinth was visibly afraid for her life. She tried to scurry backwards, but her limp arm made it difficult. Sweat beads cascaded down her skin as the justicar loomed over her; grabbing her by the neck and dragging her a few inches away before slamming her down onto the floor. Morinth's last view of life would be that of her mother, standing above and staring down at her. This confused Thane, as he was half expecting Samara to shoot her daughter right on the spot.
Instead, she again firmly gripped Morinth's neck, to the point where her fingers dug into the skin. A lone tear rolled down her face as she uttered the last words Morinth would ever hear in this lifetime.
"Find peace in the embrace of the Goddess."
Thane heard a sickening crunching noise, one that made him feel nauseated. The sight of Samara, lifting her hand as it was soaked in blood and a solitary tear trickling down her right cheek, would forever be etched into his memory. He grieved for her then and there, even as he rose to his feet with a slight wobble. There was still one thing yet to do, and it was something he was obligated to do for both mother and daughter.
He cradled the body of Morinth in his arms, carrying her over to the couch they had sat on mere moments before. With the utmost care, he propped her bloodied head against the pillows; folding her arms right above her breast as if she were in prayer. When Thane recited a prayer to Kalihira -for both himself and for Morinth-, Samara hid her face.
"It is finished," she said, still hiding her true feelings. "No longer will she live to destroy the lives of others... and no longer will I hunt her."
He did not answer. What could he even say?
"Perhaps when I have put enough distance between these places, I will ensure she has a proper burial at home," she blinked her eyes rapidly. "For now, I wish to leave... forgive me, though I am but a broken old warrior..."
Thane broke away from prayer and turned his attentions to the justicar. Sensing her anguish, he embraced her as he did with Diana. She did not protest and instead, reciprocated it in kind.
Chapter 7: Epilogue
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Against the backdrop of a gigantic solar sphere, tinted with orange and a touch of blue, sat the Illusive Man. He slowly drew away a cigarette from his lips, blowing a puff of smoke like it was an art form. Dangling it off to one side, he gave it a brief tap. Little orange specks floated through the air, disintegrating into nothingness mid-flight. Cocking his head back, he placed it back in his mouth for another draw.
"I'm impressed, Shepard," he complimented. "You must command a great amount of trust in your crew to allow them to go on their own as the Justicar and Krios did."
In the hologram, Shepard appeared to look bored. She tapped her foot impatiently. He'd hoped that just this once, she would issue some self-control and not abruptly terminate the connection as she did following the meeting after Horizon. He put on a calm face for her, but inside, the Illusive Man was rapidly growing impatient with Shepard's escalating attitude that not even Miranda could control.
"Samara and Thane are big kids. They can handle themselves." Shepard stifled a yawn. "With them, at least I don't get the feeling they're going to stab me in the back. Wish I could say the same for your bootlicker."
Ignoring her barely-veiled insult hurled towards Miranda, he shoved the cigarette in the ash tray, giving it an emphasized squeeze and twist for good measure, indicating his mild annoyance. Then, he steepled his fingers together, tapping them every few seconds. That was one of the few ways he struck even the littlest bit of fear into her and he knew it.
"Quite. However, I am disappointed that we weren't able to recover the Justicar's daughter's body," said the Illusive Man. "We know very little about the 'Ardat-Yakshi' genetic defect in asari and such research would have proved beneficial for future biotic-based projects."
Shepard placed her hands squarely on her hips. "Personally? I'm glad your guys didn't lay a hand on her body," she snapped. "Samara's been through enough and the last thing she needs is people like you making some sort of circus freakshow out of her kid. And if you're smart, you won't even think twice about disturbing Morinth's body." Shepard chuckled indignantly. "Unless you want an asari justicar coming after your asses."
"I've no intention of invoking the Justicar's wrath, Shepard." The Illusive Man's eyes were half-lidded in slight annoyance. He'd gotten used to Shepard's backsass, but it didn't make it any less pleasant to listen to, or put up with. "And I read in the report forwarded to me by Miranda that Krios was slightly unnerved by the incident." He lit up another cigarette. "My question is... will he be psychologically sound for the remainder of the mission?"
Shepard made a face that invoked disgust. "I made sure Thane got a full physical from Doctor Chakwas and a complete neural scan from Professor Solus. And he's having a counseling session with Yeoman Chambers as we speak. He'll be alright," she said. "Anything after that is none of your business."
"Very well. Good luck, Shepard."
The transmission abruptly cut off, leaving the Illusive Man to stare out towards the fiery star.
Shepard rubbed a hand against an eye, muttering to herself things that would dare not be spoken in the presence of the Illusive Man himself. Entering the armory, she was greeted by both Jacob and Garrus as they were wrapping up a conversation about what had happened with the former's father.
"Don't tell me you got sassy with him again." Jacob chuckled. Shepard smirked as a silent answer to his question. "I don't know how you do it, Shepard. You just can't resist throwing rocks at the hornet nest."
She twirled her hands in the air, indicating her frustration. "You deal with people like Udina for as long as I did, you kinda learn to put up with pompous assholes, " she said. "You doing alright?"
Jacob made an 'eh' noise and leaned against the counter. "Been better, but I'm good. I was just talking with Vakarian over here about it," he answered. "Not that any of that stuff is important."
"How's Samara doing?" Garrus asked, deftly changing the course of conversation. "I never thought I'd see her as anything other than emotionless, but when she passed by me in the hall down below deck, I got this strange chill." Garrus touched his back to illustrate his point. "I know justicars are something else, but..."
Sitting on the suspended table across from Jacob, Shepard leaned back slightly using both her arms as support. She too had literally felt Samara's sorrow even by just standing two feet away from her. The asari did not want to talk about it and neither did Thane at first, so the commander obliged and said nothing of the subject around them. But she wanted to talk with Samara, at least, if to see how she was holding up.
"I hear ya'." Shepard nodded. "I can't or even pretend to understand what she had to do. What's important is that she's now focused on the mission and that's that."
"Man, her own daughter," Jacob nodded. "That's gotta be rough."
"Don't forget that her daughter was a serial killer and a sexual predator," Garrus pointed out. "I remember at C-Sec we had an asari who fit her profile on our top ten most wanted list, but none of us detectives could track her down. Chellick will be pleased with this if he ever finds out she's dead."
"Probably for the best no one else knows for now. It'll be easier for Samara that way," added Jacob. He stroked his chin. "But I wonder why she chose Thane to go with her. Never would have expected those two to have something going on between them."
Shepard knew why. It wasn't for any attempts to have 'alone time' between them nor was it to foster a relationship. Only she knew the truth and was intending to keep it that way, out of respect for both the drell and the justicar. It wasn't easy for her to keep secrets, this much was true. This time would be different.
"What difference does it make?" she opined. "I guess if you're going to take down a killer like her, you may as well bring along the best."
Inside the life support room, Thane was locked in meditation. Eyes closed, fingers pressed against his mouth. Echoes of Morinth's voice continued to resonate inside; the seduction fading, true, but fragments remained. He called upon images of his new friends, of his son Kolyat and of his beloved Irikah to keep the black widow's visage at bay.
The hydraulic whoosh of the door startled him back to awareness. What remained of Morinth shattered, replaced now with the familiar click-clack of Samara's heels against the steel floor, coming up behind him and then to a halt as she stood across from him.
"Greetings," he said, smiling. "Is there anything you need?"
"Thane, I want to thank you," Samara answered. "For your assistance... and for your compassion."
He perked up a tad. "You're quite welcome," he responded. "Are you going to be alright?"
She sat down opposite him. "For the first time in hundreds of years, I feel at peace. Still, my heart deeply grieves for the bravest and the smartest of my children." She closed her eyes briefly. "Yet I shall move on and honor the memories of the beautiful woman she once was. But what I am feeling is of no importance. How are you faring?"
Sipping a few drops of tea from a nearby cup, he pursed his lips for a moment and savored the tart and honey taste that lingered on his tongue, then placed it back down with both hands. "Still working through Morinth's influence. I've taken several showers and I still feel filthy," he half-joked. His tone then turned serious. "I won't lie to you Samara. That was the most difficult of all the tasks I' ve undertaken in my life. When Morinth pierced my soul with those empty, heartless eyes of hers, I..."
Thane's head jerked away, feeling great shame for what he was about to admit next.
"I wanted to give in," he confessed. "To surrender myself to her. She tapped inside me an impulse that longed for the death I've accepted to be quick, clean and painless. It was as if she knew. "
Though his head was turned away in shame, Samara reached over the table and placed the palm of her hand against the side of his head and with one smooth, single stroke, he turned his gaze towards her. Her hand snapped back and under the table.
"Do not be ashamed," Samara assured him. There was a hint of guilt as she spoke. "Morinth was always able to subtly dominate the minds of others without them even being aware of it, irregardless of their own mental constitution. It was not of your will that you felt such emotions. That may have been why the poor child was so quick to fall under her spell as she did."
Thane pounded his fists against the desktop. Samara did not even flinch.
"My body was succumbing to her temptations, warring against the will of my spirit as it sought to ward them off!" he insisted. "I've had many try to tempt me, Samara. Many . But never like that. To be in the thrall of an Ardat-Yakshi... never ."
Samara hung her head, heavy with guilt. He harbored no ill will towards her, it was the opposite.
"And I don't feel any remorse or regret over it. That is what disturbs me the most," he added.
"Still, I knew the risks and did what I had to do. For you to be at peace... that is enough for me, my own weaknesses be damned." Thane ran a finger across the top of the tea-filled mug. He looked up at her, a sereneness now glazed on him that still did not make her feel any better about it. "It was an honor working with you, Samara. May Asharu look favorably upon you."
"I too consider it a great honor to have had you at my side during all of this. If we do not live past the mission at hand," she stood up from the table, gently pushing the other chair back in. "then my greatest hope is that Falere and Rila shall carry my gratitude forever in their hearts and will honor your memory above all."
They said no parting words, for they knew they would see one another again soon, be it in the mess hall or out in the field. As the door sealed shut behind Samara, the 'tap tap' of her heels fading into a soundless ether, Thane meditated upon her promise. Only moments later, he was overcome with a surge of raw emotion and burrowed his head into his hands, with a solitary tear rolling down the palm of his hand.
Originally posted March-April 2010; final edit April 2012